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African perspectives of moral status: a framework for evaluating global bioethical issues
  1. Caesar Alimsinya Atuire
  1. Philosophy and Classics, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana
  1. Correspondence to Dr Caesar Alimsinya Atuire, Philosophy and Classics, University of Ghana, Accra, PO Box LG211, Ghana;{at}


This paper offers an African perspective on moral status grounded on an understanding of personhood. These concepts are key to understanding the differences in emphasis and the values at play when global ethical issues are analysed within the African context. Drawing from African philosophical reflections on the descriptive and normative concepts of personhood, I propose a dual notion of subject and object moral status. I explain how object moral status, duties owed to persons, is differently grounded with respect to subject moral status, which refers to communally directed agency. This distinction influences the African way of conceptualising and addressing ethical issues, where, without ignoring rights of persons, moral consideration about the agency of right bearers is often factored into ethical deliberation. As a practical example, I look at the debate surrounding legal access to safe abortion on the African continent. I suggest a Gadamerian approach to diffuse the tensions that sometimes arise between universalist advocates of rights and cultural decolonisationists.

  • medical ethics/bioethics
  • pregnancy
  • rhetoric of bioethics
  • medical/health law

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This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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Data availability statement

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was first published. The licence has been updated to open access CC BY.

  • Contributors CAA is the sole author of this paper, responsible for the scholarship, writing and editing of the work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.